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How Good is the Columbus Crew Roster in 2021?

| April 3, 2021 9:45 am PDT

Just when you thought the defending MLS Cup champions could not possibly get any stronger, they go and add a couple of bona fide Major League Soccer legends to their ranks.

Believe it or not – Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kevin Molino feature in the 2021 Columbus Crew roster, alongside guys like Gyasi Zardes, Lucas Zelarayan, and Pedro Santos.

But just how good is the Columbus Crew roster in 2021?

Below, I analyze the Crew’s 2021 MLS roster and look at the club’s Designated Players. But first, let’s start by checking out Columbus’ offseason transfers.

The Crew’s Offseason Player Transfers

Following the Crew’s 2020 MLS Cup triumph, Caleb Porter would have obviously been happy with his pool of players. But to give the club the best possible chance of defending their crown, the Colombus head coach has been busy strengthening his squad during the offseason.

Let’s take a look at Columbus’ recent incoming transfers.

Players In

    • Alexandru Matan – FC Viitorul ($1.80m)
    • Evan Bush – Vancouver Whitecaps ($0.15m)
    • Kevin Molino – Minnesota United (Free)
    • Isaiah Parente – Demon Deacons (Free)
    • Perry Kitchen – LA Galaxy (Free)
    • Bradley Wright-Phillips – LAFC (Free)
    • Marlon Hairston – Minnesota United (Free)
    • Eric Dick – Sporting Kansas City (Draft)
    • Justin Malou – Clemson Tigers (Draft)

Alexandru Matan arrives in Ohio having made a name for himself in Europe. The Romania U21 international can operate centrally or out wide and will add creativity to the Crew’s midfield.

As you can see, Columbus has made several notable acquisitions during the offseason. But there is no denying that Kevin Molino and Bradley Wright-Phillips are the headline acts.

With over 150 MLS goals between them, Molino and BWP add vast experience to the 2021 Columbus Crew roster. If you enjoy betting on MLS, backing a Columbus forward to win the Golden Boot seems like a good idea this year.

Players Out

  • Emmanuel Boateng – New England Revolution (Free)
  • Youness Mokhtar – ADO Den Haag (Free)
  • Hector Jimenez – Austin FC (Free)
  • Jon Kempin – DC United (Free)
  • Chris Cadden – Hibernian (Free)
  • Sebastian Berhalter – Austin FC (Loan)

Hector Jimenez and Sebastian Berhalter have moved to expansion club Austin FC, with the former signing permanently and the latter joining on loan.

The most high-profile offseason exit is Youness Mokhtar, who has returned to the Netherlands. The winger notched up four goals and one assist in 27 games for the Crew, although Columbus’ 2021 roster is stacked with quality in the forward department.

Former LA Galaxy midfielder Emmanuel Boateng has joined the Revs, having only made three starts for the Crew last year.

Analyzing the 2021 Columbus Crew Roster

The Columbus Crew roster for the 2021 MLS season is shaping up nicely. Below, I break down the Black & Gold’s squad.

Goalkeepers Defenders Midfielders Forwards
Eloy Room Jonathan Mensah (C) Artur Derrick Etienne Jr.
Evan Bush Aboubacar Keita Perry Kitchen Kevin Molino
Eric Dick Vito Wormgoor Darlington Nagbe Pedro Santos (DP)
Matt Lampson Josh Williams Aidan Morris Marlon Hairston
Grant Lillard Isaiah Parente Gyasi Zardes (DP)
Milton Valenzuela Luis Diaz Bradley Wright-Phillips
Waylon Francis Lucas Zelarayan (DP) Miguel Berry
Harrison Afful Alexnadru Matan
Justin Malou

Are the Crew’s Defensive Options the Best in MLS?

Evan Bush and Eric Dick have been signed to offer backup in the goalkeeping department, although Eloy Room won’t be giving up the Crew’s number-one jersey any time soon.

Only two men – Joe Willis (Nashville SC) and Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union) – achieved more regular-season shutouts than Room last season, meaning he is likely to challenge the MLS stat leaders again this year.

You can expect to see more clean sheets from Columbus in 2021, with guys like Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful, and Milton Valenzuela forming a solid backline. Captain Mensah was named in the 2020 MLS Best XI, while the Crew boasted the second-best defensive record in the competition.

With Justin Malou – a first-round pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft – giving Porter even more defensive options, I could argue that Columbus boasts the meanest backline in Major League Soccer.

Columbus is Stacked in Midfield and Attack

Having a player like Artur in the middle of the park allows the more attack-minded midfielders to go and express themselves further up the pitch. The tough-tackling Brazilian has become one of the Crew’s most important players in recent times.

On the topic of attack-minded midfielders, I expect Lucas Zelarayan to further enhance his growing reputation in 2021. The Argentine contributed eight goals and three assists in his maiden campaign, while Darlington Nagbe produced of the standout moments from the 2020 MLS season.

But regardless of all the gifted players at Porter’s disposal, you can’t talk about the 2021 Columbus Crew roster without mentioning the outrageous attacking options.

Gyasi Zardes and Pedro Santos need no introduction, while Derrick Etienne Jr. Is arguably one of the most exciting young forwards in the league. On top of that, Molino and Wright-Phillips now call Columbus home.

In fact, BWP is one of the most prolific MLS Golden Boot winners of all time.

Ranking Every MLS Golden Boot Winner

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Will Columbus’ DPs Continue to Shine in 2021?

What can the Crew’s Designated Players achieve in 2021? Let’s take a closer look at Zelarayan, Santos, and Zardes – detailing the DPs’ importance to Columbus.

Lucas Zelarayan Can Get Even Better

There have been plenty of impressive debut MLS seasons over the years, but Zelarayan’s 2020 campaign could be one of the best. Aside from his goals and assists, the 28-year-old’s creativity was key to the Crew’s MLS Cup triumph – and I think he is only going to improve.

With a full season of Major League Soccer in the bank, I can see Zelarayan getting even better in 2021. Given that he is now fully accustomed to the league, don’t be surprised if he hits double figures in both the goal and assist columns this year.

Pedro Santos’ Versatility is Key

Closing in on a century of MLS appearances, Santos is now widely regarded as one of the best overseas players on American soil. The forward chipped in with eight goals and seven assists last term, taking his overall tally for the Crew to 20 goals and 22 assists.

The Portuguese was quite literally everywhere last year. As well as featuring on both wings, he also operated as a central striker and even in central midfield. Having bagged key goals in two playoff matches last season, Santos is hugely important to Columbus.

Can Gyasi Zardes Win the Golden Boot?

Following a series of standout seasons, it feels as though Zardes could challenge for the 2021 MLS Golden Boot. The USMNT star was always a prolific goalscorer for the Galaxy, but since swapping LA for Ohio back in 2018, he has taken his game up a notch.

Zardes has netted 48 goals in 90 games for the Crew, including 41 goals in 79 regular season matches. Columbus looks set to challenge for silverware again this year, meaning Zardes is likely to find himself among the league’s top scorers.

As the table below shows, Zardes only finished two goals behind the 2020 MLS Golden Boot winner – Diego Rossi.

Player Goals
Diego Rossi 14
Robert Beric 12
Gyasi Zardes 12
Raul Ruidiaz 12

Closing Thoughts on the 2021 Columbus Crew Roster

In the past, we have seen defending champions choose not to add to their squad during the offseason and ultimately pay the price the following year. But it feels like the 2021 Columbus Crew roster is more than ready to defend the MLS Cup.

Of course, the obvious strength in depth can be found in attack. With Zardes, Zelarayan, and Santos, Porter already had three high-quality options. But the arrival of Molino and BWP makes Columbus even stronger this year.

Elsewhere, the Crew’s goal looks set to be well protected. In front of Room, Mensah is a rock at the heart of the defense, while players such as Artur and Nagbe can shield the backline.

Everywhere you look, Columbus Crew’s 2021 roster is brimming with talent.

I have already enjoyed ranking the MLS Eastern Conference teams for 2021 – and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that Columbus is right at the very top.

Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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